Sunday, 31 March 2019

Science Fiction Is Trying To Imagine A Way Out Of, And After, This Time Period [AUDIO]

Tobias S. Buckell: “Nora K. Jemisin  was just saying on Twitter the other day that in science fiction we have this venerable tradition of using metaphor to dig at some of these problems—like race and power and structure and history—and that it’s been a mistake, because in the past we would always use the metaphor assuming that our fellow readers and fans of the genre were following along, getting the metaphor, and it turns out that they weren’t. In other words, you needed to be way more in-your-face.” – Wired

Amelie de Montchalin named new French European affairs minister

March 31, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – French president Emmanuel Macron appointed legislator Amelie de Montchalin as new European affairs minister on Sunday to replace Nathalie Loiseau in a small expected cabinet reshuffle two months before the European elections.

Loiseau quit her job on Wednesday to lead President Emmanuel Macron’s party for the European election campaign. The vote will be held in France and the other countries of the European Union in late May.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro; Editing by Edmund Blair)

Federer downs injured Isner for 101st career title

March 31, 2019

(Reuters) – Roger Federer defeated a hobbling John Isner 6-1 6-4 for his 101th career title at the Miami Open on Sunday.

Holder Isner struggled to continue late in the second set, hampered by pain in his left foot.

Federer, who won his fourth Miami title, broke Isner three times in a blazing opening set.

But the American fought back in the second, leveling the set 3-3 and 4-4 before the pain made it difficult to continue.

Federer took the final two games for the victory.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

National Enquirer: Bezos’ girlfriend’s brother ‘single source’ for reports

March 31, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The publisher of the National Enquirer on Sunday said its reports on Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’ private life were based on information from a single source, the brother of Bezos’ girlfriend, Lauren Sanchez.

The statement from American Media Inc. followed publication by Bezos security chief Gavin De Becker of an article in the Daily Beast in which he said the government of Saudi Arabia had accessed private information from Bezos’ phone.

While De Becker said in the article that there was “high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone,” it was “unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.”

Nevertheless, AMI released a statement saying its reports on Bezos’ affair with Sanchez were based solely on information provided by Michael Sanchez, “who tipped the National Enquirer off to the affair on Sept. 10, 2018, and over the course of four months provided all of the materials for our investigation.

“There was no involvement by any third party whatsoever,” it added.

Gavin de Becker & Associates did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A representative for the Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dan Grebler)

UConn tops Louisville, heads to 12th straight Final Four

March 31, 2019

Katie Samuelson had a game-high 29 points, including seven 3-pointers, as second-seeded Connecticut held off a late rally by top-seed Louisville to seal an 80-73 victory in the Albany (N.Y.) Region final on Sunday.

The Huskies (35-2) will play in their 12th consecutive Final Four while Louisville ends its season at 32-4. UConn will face the winner of the Chicago Region final between Stanford and Notre Dame in the Final Four on Friday at Tampa, Fla.

Samuelson had 10 of her points in the fourth quarter. She made 2 of 3 from 3-point range in the quarter and 7 of 12 overall from long distance.

Asia Durr, who had 18 of her 21 points in the second half for Louisville, made two free throws with 36 seconds left to cut the lead to 75-71. Durr also had nine rebounds.

After a steal by Louisville’s Dana Evans, Arica Carter made a layup with 28 seconds left to cut the lead to 75-73.

Samuelson, an 87 percent free throw shooter, made two free throws with 23 seconds left to put UConn ahead 77-73.

Durr, an 83 percent shooter at the line, missed two free throws with 20 seconds left after Napheesa Collier fouled her on a shot attempt in the lane. Collier then made two free throws with 17 seconds left, and after a Louisville turnover, a free throw by Megan Walker with 14 seconds left made it a three-possession game.

Christyn Williams had seven of her 16 points in the fourth quarter for UConn, which has won 17 straight games. The Huskies’ last loss was at Louisville on Jan. 31.

Walker added 13 points and 12 rebounds and Collier had 12 points and 13 rebounds for the Huskies.

UConn, which took as big as a 10-point lead in the first half, went into halftime with a 41-34 lead thanks to the Huskies’ 3-point shooting. They made 9 of 16 shots (56.3 percent) from beyond the arc in the first half. Walker made 4 of 5 shots from that range and led all scorers at halftime with 12 points.

Durr, who entered the game averaging 21.2 points a game, had only three points in the first half on 1-of-10 shooting from the field, including 0 of 2 from beyond the arc.

Six unanswered points by Louisville in the last 1:09 of the third quarter cut UConn’s lead to 57-53. The last two baskets by Durr and Evans were on fast-break situations off steals.

Consecutive shots by Durr cut UConn’s lead to 64-61 with 5:30 left in regulation. Durr was in a stretch in which she made 5 of 6 shots from the field at that point.

–Field Level Media

Agn├Ęs Varda Made The Invisible Visible

In The Gleaners and I and Faces Places, Varda paid attention to the France that feels left behind by the powerful and rich. But there was a secondary benefit as well: “She had wanted to pay attention to people who were ‘invisible.’ And she did. One of those people was her.” – The Atlantic

Butterworth’s Post-Atomic Wasteland

Two new collections of Michael Butterworth’s early short stories – stories he thought lost for good – show his early days as a literary SF writer. – Jan Herman

Kisner, Kuchar to meet in all-American Match Play final

March 31, 2019

(Reuters) – Kevin Kisner and Matt Kuchar will meet in an all-American final at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play after dispatching their respective opponents in close Sunday morning semi-finals in Texas on Sunday.

Kisner upset Italian seventh seed Francesco Molinari 1-up, while Kuchar won by the same margin when he edged Danish 50th seed Lucas Bjerregaard on a chilly morning at Austin Country Club.

Kisner, the 48th seed, is back in the final for the second straight year, after finishing runner-up to Bubba Watson 12 months ago.

Twenty-third seed Kuchar won the event in 2013, when it was played in Arizona.

The 18-hole final was scheduled to start almost immediately.

(Reporting by Andrew Both in Cary, North Carolina; Editing by Ken Ferris)

Shaking my head

A press release that touts a a composer who became famous nearly 100 years ago as “contemporary” has us smiling. – Greg Sandow

The Music Stars Of Social Media

How are these young people, in their teens and young twenties, getting so much streaming play on Spotify? “These artists have virtually no media profile, no radio play, most don’t seem to have a record deal and they barely give interviews.” YouTube. YouTube. You. Tube. – The Guardian (UK)

Nokia 9 PureView in for review

Ever since the return of Nokia under HMD Global ownership in the beginning of 2017, everyone's been asking where the proper flagship is. The Nokia 8 was sort of that, but it failed to impress, and then the Nokia 8 Sirocco missed the mark too, if it was even going for it at all. In comes the Nokia 9 PureView. PureView is more than a brand - the moniker holds an iconic status among Nokia loyalists thanks to phones like the Nokia 808 and the Lumia 1020 that were unmatched in their camera prowess back in their days. The Nokia 9 PureView has big shoes to fill then, and it certainly...

PS Plus April UPDATE: Free PS4 game bonus and new PlayStation Plus deals



THE PS Plus April 2019 update is just around the corner, with new PS4 game bonuses and PlayStation Plus deals planned.

France Is Becoming A Refuge For American Noir Novels – And Novelists – Who Can’t Hit It Big On Amazon

Le Monde isn’t mincing words here. While the U.S., at least one novelist claims, has a blockbuster mentality, France is much more welcoming, a place where “several of these authors, who no longer have a publisher in the United States, see their talent justly distinguished.” – Le Monde (France)

Comedian Zelenskiy takes lead in Ukraine presidential election: exit poll

March 31, 2019

KIEV (Reuters) – The first exit poll in Ukraine’s presidential election showed comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy winning the first round with 30.4 percent of the vote, and incumbent President Petro Poroshenko coming in second place with 17.8 percent.

Announcing the first poll, the Central Election Commission said it was based on voting up to 18:00 (15:00 GMT).

If no candidate receives more than half the votes, the election goes to a run-off on April 21.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; writing by Polina Ivanova; editing by Matthias Williams)

Saudis gained access to Amazon CEO Bezos’ phone: Bezos’ security chief

March 31, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The security chief for Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos said on Saturday that the Saudi government had access to Bezos’ phone and gained private information from it.

Gavin De Becker, a longtime security consultant, said he had concluded his investigation into the publication in January of leaked text messages between Bezos and Lauren Sanchez, a former television anchor who the National Enquirer tabloid newspaper said Bezos was dating.

Last month, Bezos accused the newspaper’s owner of trying to blackmail him with the threat of publishing “intimate photos” he allegedly sent to Sanchez unless he said in public that the tabloid’s reporting on him was not politically motivated.

In an article for The Daily Beast website, De Becker said the parent company of the National Enquirer, American Media Inc., had privately demanded that De Becker deny finding any evidence of “electronic eavesdropping or hacking in their newsgathering process.”

“Our investigators and several experts concluded with high confidence that the Saudis had access to Bezos’ phone, and gained private information,” De Becker wrote. “As of today, it is unclear to what degree, if any, AMI was aware of the details.”

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington did not immediately return a request for comment. In February, the kingdom’s minister of state for foreign affairs said Saudi Arabia had “absolutely nothing to do” with the National Enquirer’s reporting on the affair.

A representative for AMI did not immediately respond to a request for comment. AMI has previously said that it acted lawfully in the reporting of the Bezos story.

De Becker said he has turned over the findings of his investigation to U.S. federal officials, without elaborating.

(Reporting by Christopher Bing; Editing by Mary Milliken and Rosalba O’Brien)

First, Reality Influences Epic Fantasy Novels, And Then You End Up With English Watchers On Hadrian’s Wall

Turns out that the watchers on the wall – that is, the members of English Heritage who staff Roman sites along Hadrian’s Wall, the border with Scotland – have been answering Game of Thrones fan questions for years, but now they’re going one better: “Its members will be decked out in black cloaks and shields, and will be posted at four main Roman sites along the historic structure … until the debut of the final season on April 14th.” – The Verge

Motor racing: Heartbreak for Leclerc as Hamilton wins in Bahrain

March 31, 2019

MANAMA (Reuters) – Five times world champion Lewis Hamilton won the Bahrain Grand Prix for Mercedes on Sunday after engine trouble dashed Charles Leclerc’s hopes of a first Formula One victory in only his second race for Ferrari.

Monaco’s Leclerc, who had started on pole position for the first time, lost power with 10 laps to go while leading and finished third with an extra point for the fastest lap.

Valtteri Bottas, winner of the opener in Australia, took second place to stay top of the championship standings by a point from team mate Hamilton.

The race finished behind the safety car after both Renaults stopped on track.

(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Toby Davis)

Erdogan’s AKP leads in Istanbul, Ankara in Turkish local elections

March 31, 2019

ANKARA (Reuters) – Candidates from President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) were leading mayoral elections in Turkey’s two main cities after about one quarter of ballots had been opened, broadcaster NTV said on Sunday.

It said the AKP candidate in Istanbul, the country’s largest city, had 51.8 percent with 24.4 percent of ballot boxes opened. The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate had 45.8 percent.

The AKP was also leading in the capital Ankara with 51.6 percent of votes after 22.5 percent of ballots were opened, NTV said.

Preliminary vote counts at similar stages of previous elections have often shown a strong lead for the AKP over opposition parties, which has narrowed as counting continued.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

The Latest Dust-Up In The Uneven Battle Between Talent Agencies And Writers

At a time when the Writers Guild of America is trying desperately to get its members better positioned in the industry, suffice it to say that the union is not impressed with the Endeavor agency’s plan to enter the stock market with an initial public offering. The WGA: “It is impossible to reconcile the fundamental purpose of an agency — to serve the best interests of its clients — with the business of maximizing returns for Wall Street.” – Los Angeles Times

Box Office: ‘Dumbo’ lands at no. 1 with soft $45 million

March 31, 2019

By Rebecca Rubin

LOS ANGELES, (Variety.com) – Disney’s “Dumbo” had an underwhelming liftoff at the domestic box office. Tim Burton’s live-action remake debuted with $45 million from 4,259 North American theaters, below expectations heading into the weekend.

While that was easily enough to top the domestic box office, it marks the lowest start among the studio’s recent live-action remakes of Disney classics. To compare, 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast” debuted with $174 million, 2016’s “The Jungle Book” opened with $103 million,” and 2015’s “Cinderella” launched with $67 million.

Heading into the weekend, “Dumbo” was expected to surpass $50 million in its first three days of release. Part of the reason for the softer opening is likely because the original “Dumbo” cartoon came out 80 years ago, making the lovable elephant seem slightly less relevant than classics like “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Jungle Book,” which both became huge successes for the studio.

“Dumbo” carries a $170 million production budget. The high-flying elephant will have to resonate overseas should “Dumbo” not pick up steam at the domestic box office. The movie launched in most international territories this weekend, amassing $71 million from foreign markets for a global start of $116 million.

Audiences were more receptive than critics to Tim Burton’s take on baby elephant with inconveniently large ears. Moviegoers awarded “Dumbo” with an A- Cinemascore. It holds a 50 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. As expected, families made up 54 percent of opening weekend crowds. It also skewed slightly female: 53 percent of patrons were women.

“Dumbo” is the first of three high-profile Disney re-imaginings heading back to the big screen this year, with Guy Richie’s “Aladdin” and Jon Favreau’s “The Lion King” arriving in theaters this summer. Those films, along with the studio’s highly anticipated superhero mashup “Avengers: Endgame,” will likely offset any pain should “Dumbo” fail to connect with audiences.

Last weekend’s champ “Us” dropped to second place, staying strong with $33 million in its sophomore outing. That marks a 53% decline from its opening weekend haul, a solid hold given the kind of drop horror movies typically suffer after its initial release. Written and directed by Jordan Peele, “Us” has now surpassed $128 million in ticket sales in North America. The film, which stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as a couple forced to fight off blood-thirsty doppelgangers, cost $20 million to produce.

In third place, Disney’s “Captain Marvel” added another $20 million in its third weekend of release. That takes the superhero tentpole starring Brie Larson past $350 million in North America.

New release “Unplanned” will battle with romance drama “Five Feet Apart” for fourth place. Both titles earned roughly $6 million this weekend.

“Unplanned,” which tells the true story of a Planned Parenthood employee who has a life-changing experience, doubled expectations that pegged an opening weekend around $3 million. It cost $6 million to produce.

Lionsgate and CBS Films’ “Five Feet Apart,” now in its third weekend of release, has earned $35 million to date.

Elsewhere, Matthew McConaughey suffered the worst opening of his career with “The Beach Bum.” Directed by Harmony Korine, the film flopped with $1.8 million from 1,100 screens. The studios initially planned for a platform release, which could have slowly allowed the film to gain traction through word-of-mouth. Instead, the stoner comedy opened nationwide with little marketing since its premiere at South by Southwest. It’s been a rocky start to 2019 for McConaughey. Earlier this year, his film “Serenity,” a neo-noir thriller with Anne Hathaway, collapsed with a $4.5 million debut. It tapped out with $11.4 million worldwide.

Border row pitches Mexican president into deep water with Trump

March 31, 2019

By Dave Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s threat to shut the U.S. border if Mexico does not halt all illegal immigration has exposed the limitations of the new Mexican government’s strategy of trying to appease the U.S. president as he gears up for re-election.

Amid a surge in migrant detentions at the southwest U.S. border, Trump on Friday said he would close the 2,000-mile (3,200-km) frontier, or sections of it, during the coming week if Mexico did not halt the flow of people.

Casting the government under leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as the villain in his struggle to curb illegal immigration to the United States, Trump returned to a signature theme of his 2015-2016 presidential election bid.

His words were a slap in the face to Lopez Obrador, who has refused to answer back to provocative comments from Trump. Instead, the Mexican leader has worked to cement his powerbase by combating poverty with welfare handouts and lambasting his predecessors as corrupt.

On Friday, Lopez Obrador again said he would not quarrel with Trump, invoking “love and peace” and repeating his commitment to curbing migration.

However, for former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda, Mexico faces “incredibly damaging” consequences if Trump does order “go-slows” at the border, which would pitch Lopez Obrador into uncomfortable new territory.

“He’s totally unfamiliar with international affairs. He’d prefer not to have to worry about these things,” Castaneda said, noting that the U.S. president had tested many governments. “Nobody’s been able to find a way to manage Trump. It’s a mess.”

Staunchly non-interventionist in international affairs, Lopez Obrador shows little interest in diplomacy. He has often said “the best foreign policy is domestic policy.”

But as the destination of 80 percent of Mexico’s exports and workplace of hundreds of thousands of Mexicans, the United States offers Trump plenty of leverage to apply pressure via the border.

Policy experts say Trump’s demand is not realistic and that Mexican authorities are already stretched.

Still, Mexico has signaled it will redouble efforts to contain migration, which stems largely from three poor, violent Central American countries: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said he did not believe Trump was demanding an outright stop to the migrant flow, which has run into the millions over the past decade.

“What can be done is to improve work on registering and regulating (migration),” Ebrard told Reuters. “They’re asking us to put into effect what we said we would do.”

The government has vowed to curb migration by addressing the root causes, keeping better tabs on the people entering Mexico and adopting a more humane approach to the phenomenon.

In exchange, Lopez Obrador has sought to enlist Trump’s aid in tackling the problems of Central America, which critics say has been scarred by a history of messy U.S. interventions.

On Thursday, Lopez Obrador said migration was chiefly a matter for Washington and the troubled region, reflecting the view that Mexico cannot help being sandwiched between the struggling countries and the richest nation on the planet.

Instead, the U.S. State Department said on Saturday it was cutting off aid to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, raising questions about Trump’s commitment to helping there.

Soaring border arrests have rankled with the U.S. president.

U.S. Customs and Border Patrol projections are for over 90,000 apprehensions to be logged during March, according to data provided to the Mexican government. That is up more than 140 percent from March 2018, and a seven-fold jump from 2017. (Graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2V59n2R)

At the same time, Lopez Obrador is sending fewer migrants back home. In December-February, the administration’s first three months, the number dropped 17 percent from a year earlier to 19,360, data from the National Migration Institute show.

The fall partly reflects the government’s decision to issue humanitarian visas to encourage Central Americans to stay in Mexico. The visas proved so popular that the government had to suspend them, officials say.

Meanwhile, Lopez Obrador’s savings drive to pay for his social programs has cut the budget of the National Migration Institute by more than a fifth this year.

‘LIFE AND DEATH’

The clash illustrates Lopez Obrador’s miscalculation in thinking he could contain Trump’s hostility toward Mexico with U.S. presidential elections in 2020, said Agustin Barrios Gomez, a member of the Mexican Council on Foreign Relations.

Tension was inevitable given that Trump’s tough stance on illegal immigration is “immediately antagonistic” to Lopez Obrador’s core constituency: poorer Mexicans who often seek to better their lot in the United States, he argued.

Yet by agreeing in December to accept Central American asylum seekers while their claims are processed in the United States, Lopez Obrador gave the impression he could be “pushed around” by Trump, said former foreign minister Castaneda, who backed Lopez Obrador’s closest rival in the last election.

To keep the border open, Mexican business leaders say they are leaning on U.S. partners to pressure Congress.

A shutdown would be “very negative for both countries,” said deputy Mexican economy minister Luz Maria de la Mora, who saw Trump’s comments as part of his election campaign.

“I think the U.S. administration and the advisers in the White House know it’s not a good idea,” she told Reuters.

But if push came to shove, Mexico would suffer most, said Castaneda.

“The Americans have a much greater capacity … to outlast the Mexicans,” he said. “For Mexicans it’s a life or death issue. For Americans it’s a pain in the ass, but that’s it.”

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Daina Beth Solomon, Delphine Schrank and Lizbeth Diaz; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Contemporary Cancer Books Force Us To Address Grief In All Of Its Forms

There are a lot – a lot – of new cancer memoirs out right now. “As these memoirs suggest, individually and together, there’s no way to eliminate the risk of cancer and or be spared from grief. In addition, they call into question the popular notions that grief proceeds in simple, sequential stages.” – LitHub

Avengers Endgame: BIG clue another long DEAD MCU character is returning?



AVENGER ENDGAME could be seeing a dead MCU character return after a big clue.

Architects Need To Choose The Planet First

This piece is a fine, furious, anguished, specific call for action. “Our civilisation faces its end date. Cities are expanding refugee camps for a species in crisis. Every particle matters.” Yet architecture firms cut and paste specifications, not using green developers or materials when they could. That must change. – Dezeen

Trump aides repeat threat to shut down U.S.-Mexico border on migrant crisis

March 31, 2019

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Trump administration on Sunday doubled down on its threat to shut down the southern border with Mexico, a day after it cut aid to Central American countries which President Donald Trump blasted for deliberately sending migrants to the United States.

Faced with a surge of asylum seekers from Central American countries who travel through Mexico, Trump said on Friday there was a “good likelihood” he would close the border this coming week if Mexico does not stop unauthorized immigrants from reaching the United States.

He also accused the nations of having “set up” migrant caravans and sent them north.

Speaking to ABC’s “This Week” show, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said the president had few other options in the absence of any support from Democrats for more border security or legislative action to change the immigration law.

“Faced with those limitations, the president will do everything he can. If closing the ports of entry means that, that’s exactly what he intends to do,” Mulvaney said. “We need border security and we’re going to do the best we can with what we have,” he added.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told “Fox News Sunday” that the situation at the border was at “melting point” and said the president was serious in his threat. “It certainly is not a bluff. You can take the president seriously.”

Neither Trump aide offered any specific details or timeline for the potential border shutdown.

At a Saturday rally on the border in El Paso, Texas, Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke denounced Trump’s immigration policies as the politics of “fear and division.”

Trump has repeatedly said he would close the U.S. border with Mexico during his two years in office. His latest threat had workers and students who frequently cross the border worried about the potential disruption to their lives.

The government says it is struggling to deal with a surge in recent days of asylum seekers from countries in Central America who travel through Mexico and on Saturday cut aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

March is on track for 100,000 border apprehensions, Department of Homeland Security officials said, which would be the highest monthly number in more than a decade. Most of those people can remain in the United States while their asylum claims are processed, which can take years because of ballooning immigration court backlogs.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Howard Schneider; editing by Michelle Price and Lisa Shumaker)

Conversion is not your mission, pope tells Catholics in Morocco

March 31, 2019

By Philip Pullella and Ahmed Eljechtimi

RABAT (Reuters) – Pope Francis told the tiny Catholic community in predominantly Muslim Morocco on Sunday that their mission was not to covert their neighbors but to live in brotherhood with other faiths.

Francis has used his two-day trip to stress inter-faith dialogue. He has also backed Moroccan King Mohammed VI’s efforts to spread a form of Islam that promotes inter-religious dialogue and rejects violence in God’s name.

Morocco’s 23,000 Roman Catholics – most of them French and other European expatriates and migrants from sub-Saharan Africa – make up less than one percent of the population of 35 million.

“Christians are a small minority in this country. Yet, to my mind, this is not a problem, even though I realize that at times it can be difficult for some of you,” he said at a meeting with Catholic community leaders in Rabat’s cathedral.

Conservative Catholics have criticized the pope’s opposition to organized or aggressive recruiting of potential converts.

“The Church grows not through proselytism but by attraction,” Francis said to applause.

“This means, dear friends, that our mission as baptized persons, priests and consecrated men and women, is not really determined by the number or size of spaces that we occupy, but rather by our capacity to generate change and to awaken wonder and compassion,” he said.

Moroccan authorities do not recognize Moroccan converts to Christianity, many of whom worship secretly in homes. Conversion from Islam to Christianity is banned, as it is in many Muslim countries, and proselytising is punishable by up to three years in prison.

“The problem is not when we are few in number, but when we are insignificant,” Francis said, adding that Catholics were called to be an integral part of inter-religious dialogue in a world “torn apart by the policies of extremism and division”.

At a Mass for about 10,000 catholics in a sports arena before he was due to return to Rome, the Pope also stressed the need for inter-religious dialogue, saying people should resist “classifying ourselves according to different moral, social, ethnic or religious criteria”.

On Saturday, Francis and King Mohammed VI visited an institute the monarch founded to train imams and male and female preachers of Islam.

Morocco promotes itself as an oasis of religious tolerance in a region torn by militancy. It has offered training to Muslim preachers from Africa and Europe on what it describes as moderate Islam.

At Saturday’s event, Francis praised the king for providing “sound training to combat all forms of extremism, which so often lead to violence and terrorism, and which, in any event, constitute an offence against religion and against God himself”.

Also on Saturday, Jewish leaders joined Christian representatives in the front row at two events presided over by the pope and the monarch on interfaith dialogue.

Francis’ appeal for inter-religious dialogue was made more poignant on Sunday by the presence in Rabat cathedral of Father Jean-Pierre Schumacher, a 95-year-old French monk who survived what is known as the Tibhirine massacre in Algeria.

In March 1996, seven French monks were kidnapped in a monastery in the central Algerian village of Tibhirine during the civil war between the government and Islamist rebel groups.

The monks were held for about two months and found dead, except Schumacher, who managed to escape.

(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian)

Japan’s banks can’t blame BOJ for their problems, new head of lobby says

March 31, 2019

By Junko Fujita and Taro Fuse

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese lenders should not blame the Bank of Japan’s ultra-loose monetary policy for their inability to boost trading revenue or for poor returns borne of lax risk management, the newly appointed head of the country’s banking lobby said.

Makoto Takashima said banks should instead be responsible for their own risk appetite and investment strategy, wading into a long-brewing debate about the impact of ultra-low interest rates on commercial lenders.

Japanese banks have complained about the central bank’s ultra-loose policy, which they say has diminished returns from traditional lending and hurt their bottom line. Banks, particularly smaller, regional lenders, have also been squeezed by a declining population.

“I don’t think it’s quite right for banks to blame monetary policy for their changing risk appetite, or poor investment performance as a result of loosening their risk control,” Takashima said in an interview with Reuters.

“Each bank should be responsible for their risk appetite to respond to their customer needs and boost revenue,” he said.

Takashima also heads the main unit of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc, Japan’s third-largest lender by assets. He takes over as chairman of the Japanese Bankers Association from Monday.

His comments appear to be something of a departure from those of his predecessor, Koji Fujiwara, who had urged the BOJ to review its 2 percent inflation target and ultra-loose monetary policy – in what had been some of the strongest comments to date from the banking lobby.

Separately, Isao Kubota, the chairman of Nishi-Nippon City Bank in southern Japan recently told Reuters that the central bank’s stimulus program is hurting profits so badly that even mergers among regional banks could not be a solution.

Although Takashima said he agreed with much of his predecessor’s comments, he stressed that banks themselves were responsible to execute their businesses under the central bank’s monetary policy.

Still, the industry faces some headwinds: the ultra-loose monetary policy is expected to continue, while banks are under pressure to restructure their retail businesses as the population continues to shrink and as more customers change how they conduct financial transactions.

Mizuho Financial Group, Japan’s second-largest bank by assets, last month slashed its full-year profit outlook by 86 percent, citing costs to close retail branches at home and restructuring of its securities portfolio of foreign bonds.

(Editing by David Dolan and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Avengers Endgame toy reveals major SPOILER for THIS superhero?



AVENGERS ENDGAME merchandise includes a Hulk figure with a spoiler in its title.

Thai activists protest against commission after chaotic poll

March 31, 2019

By Patpicha Tanakasempipat

BANGKOK (Reuters) – More than 100 opposition activists protested in central Bangkok on Sunday, accusing the election commission of delaying and manipulating the results of the first polls since a 2014 coup.

A week after the March 24 vote, the outcome of Thailand’s national election remains uncertain and might not be known until after the commission publishes official results due on May 9.

The body released partial results the night of the vote, and took four more days to publish fuller counts, showing a party supporting the ruling military junta winning the popular vote but the opposition Pheu Thai party ahead in partial results of House of Representatives seats.

Both the Palang Pracharat party – which seeks to keep junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha in office – and an anti-junta “democratic front” of seven parties, led by Pheu Thai, have claimed a mandate to form the next government.

“Get out! Stop cheating! Respect the people!” chanted the protesters close to the city’s Victory Monument.

They urged bystanders to add to the 830,000 signatures on an online petition to impeach the commission. The commission has declined to comment on criticism of its handling of the results.

The post-election standoff could raise tensions just as the Southeast Asian country prepares for the elaborate coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in May.

On Saturday, the king issued an order revoking royal decorations that had been awarded to former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in an earlier 2006 army coup and is linked to the Pheu Thai party.

The move could hurt the standing of Thaksin and the affiliated party in the eyes of many Thais, because the monarchy is revered without question in Thai culture.

Thaksin-linked parties have won every election since 2001. The 2014 coup ousted a Pheu Thai-led government that had Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, as prime minister.

(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Editing by Kay Johnson and Andrew Heavens)

So, Where Is That ‘New’ Leonardo?

Seriously, where? “Few works have evoked as much intrigue, either in the world of art or among the courts of Persian Gulf royals. First, its authenticity as the product of Leonardo’s own hand was the subject of intense debate. Then, in November 2017, it became the most expensive work ever sold at auction, fetching $450.3 million from an anonymous bidder. … Now, the painting is shrouded in a new mystery: Where in the world is Salvator Mundi?” – The New York Times

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